The day Michael Douglas Evans left his Ohio home in early May — after discarding an electronic ankle bracelet and before gathering his family — he promised his grandmother he was never going back to prison.
“He told me they’d never take him alive. I haven’t heard a word from him since a few days after they left. He said he was out of the country. They had that little girl with them,” Evans’ 79-year-old grandmother, Lois Gordon, said Wednesday from her home in New Philadelphia, Ohio.
A month later, her grandson has become the focus of a nationwide manhunt by police. They not only want him in the beating of an Ohio man with a hammer, but would like to question him about a 46-year-old Miami man found dead Saturday morning in the same Flagami motel room where Evans was supposed to be staying with his family.
Police are particularly concerned about Jala Barnett, the 7-year-old daughter of Evans’ 34-year-old wife, Kristy Evans. The couple pulled Jala out of school in early May when they began their journey toward Florida.
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“Both of these people are addicted to drugs, we’re told heroin,” said Tuscarawas County Deputy Police Chief Orvis Campbell. Michael Evans “left Ohio the first week of May. He fled to avoid prosecution.”
The day before Gordon’s birthday last year, on Aug. 23, she said her grandson showed up at her home fresh out of prison after serving a three-year stint. Ohio state records show Evans was arrested in April 2012 on charges that included robbery, felonious assault and vandalism. The day after his release, Gordon said he attended his sister’s graduation. While in prison he married Kristy.
Gordon said Evans wanted to move into her home with his new wife. But she said no because “I couldn’t take the turmoil.”
Gordon acknowledges that Evans has had a rough life. His father was killed during a drug deal when Evans was a baby, and his mother died of lung cancer last year, his grandmother said. She doubts she’ll hear from her grandson anytime soon because “he won’t take the chance.”
Still, despite her objections, Gordon allowed Evans and his wife to stay at her Ohio home on and off the past year. She believes her grandson got involved with drugs while in prison. After getting out, he found a gig working an oil well and at a local restaurant. Then in March, Evans was arrested again.
Police said he pummeled a man with a hammer 20 times during a drug deal. With police chasing him, Evans dove into the Tuscarawas River to get away, but was captured. An Ohio judge gave him house arrest and ordered Evans to wear an electronic ankle bracelet until his trial.
On May 6, he cut the bracelet off, then went to Jala’s school with his wife and picked up the child.
Police believe the trio set off in a 2001 Ford Escort with the license plate FUT 4068. They also believe Evans and his wife had several thousand dollars on them when they left Ohio — enough money to eat, sleep and pay for gas for a while without using a credit card that could be easily traced.
In early April the three of them checked into the $49 a night Sun Aire Motel on West Flagler Street. Police were unaware they were there until an employee at the motel knocked on the door Saturday morning. Instead of finding Evans and collecting rent, the employee discovered the body of Joseph Everett Moniz in a pool of blood, according to police. The motel manager said he had no clue who Moniz was and that he never registered to rent a room there.
When police arrived, hotel employees identified Evans, whom they easily found in an arrest warrant database. They believe Moniz was killed Friday night or Saturday morning, but aren’t saying how.
Police are still trying to piece together how the men knew each other — or if they did. Little is known about Moniz. His ex-wife told local TV that she hadn’t seen him in a decade. State records indicate he has been in and out of jail, mostly on drug charges.
Police also aren’t willing to call Evans a suspect, only saying they have a strong desire to speak with him. They also say they haven’t been able to track the Escort at a toll plaza or anywhere on camera since the trio left the motel.
Also missing from the motel: Moniz’s 2005 Audi convertible with the temporary tag BKD 6156.
Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes said his department has received some tips, “but nothing solid.”
Publicly, police in Tuscarawas and Miami say their main concern is Jala, the four-foot tall, 65-pound child who is known to be with her mother and Evans.
Gordon doesn’t believe the child is in danger. But she says it’s time for her grandson to stop running.
“I wish he’d give himself up,” she said. “It’s gonna be rough. But he needs to know we love him.”